Home > The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(17)

The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(17)
Author: J.R. Ward

Fast as he could go. And then even faster.

He went as quickly as any male who had been immobilized by his enemy for weeks and weeks could.

Which was to say he was all but out for a saunter. Qhuinn, however, had been badly hurt. A quick glance over the shoulder showed the Brother vomiting blood.

Xcor kept going, a brief optimism spurring him onward. Except then he confronted a problem that was of such magnitude that his inefficiency of forward momentum was rendered moot.

In the flickering torchlight, he saw heavy gates up ahead that were made of stout iron bars set into the rock of the cave—and they had a mesh of steel set upon them that was so fine that dematerializing was going to be impossible.

Xcor was panting, bleeding, sweating, and shaking as he came up and tested with his pathetic arms the strength of the barrier. Solid as the cave’s walls. Not a surprise.

Looking behind himself, he saw Qhuinn stand up, shake his head as if to clear it, and find an abrupt focus.

As a predator does with its prey.

The fact that there was blood dripping from the male’s chin and covering his chest seemed a portent of destiny.

Alas, he was not going to survive this.

TEN

As Layla waited for Wrath to speak of her punishment, she could not swallow for the fear and the shame and the regret. Then again, her mouth was so dry, there was nothing to carry down her throat.

Unable to stay still, but incapable of standing up from the bed, she looked away from the harsh figure of her King—only to catch sight of the bullet holes in the plaster high up in the far corner. Nausea rose from her gut, a vile, burning tide. With her anger spent, she couldn’t fathom her previous rage, but she had no doubt of where she had been emotionally. Where Qhuinn had been.

Dearest Virgin Scribe, she was going to throw up.

“I’m not going to have you killed,” Wrath announced.

Layla exhaled as she sagged. “Oh, thank you, my Lord—”

“But you can’t stay here.”

She straightened as her heart began to pound. “And what of the young?”

“We’ll work out some kind of visitation or—”

Bolting upright, she put her hands to her throat sure as if she were actually being strangled. “You cannot separate me from them!”

The King’s visage, so aristocratic, so commanding, offered compassion, but no quarter. “You can’t stay here anymore. Xcor is not going to live through what we’re going to do to him, but Throe has fed from you, and even though it’s been a while, it’s just not safe. We assumed the mhis was strong enough to insulate us, but clearly that’s faulty logic—and a security risk on a catastrophic scale.”

Layla stumbled across and fell to her knees at Wrath’s feet, clasping her hands in prayer. “I swear to you, I never meant for any of this to happen. Please, I beg of you, don’t take my young away from me. Anything else, I shall abide by, I swear!”

Out in the hall, she knew the Brothers had closed in once again and were listening at a discreet distance, and she didn’t care that they were seeing her fall apart. Wrath did, though. He shot a glare over his shoulder.

“Back off—we’re good in here,” he barked.

No, we’re not, she thought. We are not good at all herein.

There was a brief commotion and then there was no one out in the corridor that she could see—and Wrath refocused on her, his deep inhale flaring his nostrils. “I can smell your emotions. I know you’re not lying about what you say and what you believe. But there are times when intent is irrelevant and this is one of them. You need to leave now—”

“My young!”

“—or I shall have you removed.”

As tears fell, she wanted to wail, but there was naught to argue against. He was correct. Xcor had found her and followed her home, and who was to say Throe could not do the same? Even though she had fed that male but once, with her blood being so pure, the tracking effects could last years, decades, maybe longer. Why had she not considered this? Why had not they?

“Are you extinguishing my parental rights?” she said hoarsely.

The horror of losing her young was so overwhelming, she could barely put her fear into words. In all her worst nightmares, she had never thought it would come down to this. She had never once considered that the ramifications would be so devastating.

But then again, when one was going into a head-on collision, one could not possibly catalog with total accuracy the extent of the upcoming injuries—especially if you were in the midst of evasive maneuvers to try to stave off the accident itself.

Fate had placed her here.

Her own choices had, too.

There was no negotiating with either.

“No,” Wrath said abruptly. “I will not cut you off. Qhuinn will hate it, but that is not my problem.”

Layla closed her eyes, her tears squeezing out and tangling in her lashes. “Your mercy knows no bounds.”

“Bullshit. And now you got to go. I have some properties that are secure and I’ll arrange for transport. Start packing.”

“But who will stay with them?” She wheeled around to the bassinets. “My young … oh, dearest Virgin Scribe—”

“Qhuinn will. And then we’ll make arrangements for you to see them.” The King cleared his throat. “This is … how it must be. I have to think of the other young here—hell, right now, I’m wondering if I don’t need to evac every single person in this house. Jesus, why they haven’t attacked already, I don’t fucking know.”

As she imagined not sleeping beside Lyric and Rhamp, not feeding them through the day, not being the one to change them and soothe them and bathe them, she couldn’t breathe. “But only I know what they need, and I—”

“Say your goodbyes, and then Fritz will—”

“What the hell happened here?”

As Wrath pivoted back around, Layla sniffled and looked up. The Primale was standing in the broken doorway, Phury’s brows down low over his yellow eyes, his body strapped with weapons and smelling of the outdoors.

“Are you all right, Layla?” he asked with concern as he entered and stepped around Wrath. “Dearest Virgin Scribe, what—are those bullet holes? Who the hell discharged a weapon here! Are the kids okay?”

“Qhuinn was the one with the happy finger.” Wrath crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. “The young are fine, but she needs to leave. Maybe you can help take her out of here?”

Phury jerked toward his leader, his multi-colored hair swinging on his broad shoulders. “What are you talking about?”

The King was efficient with the story about her and Xcor—and he didn’t use the words betrayal, treason, or punishable by death, but he didn’t have to. All of that and so much more was implied readily—although Wrath didn’t get through the whole story.

Phury cut him off before the end. “So that’s why he came!”

“Xcor was using her, yes—”

“No! Qhuinn! Fuck!” Phury put his fingers to his mouth and whistled so loudly that Layla had to cover her ears. Then he started talking fast. “Qhuinn just came to the sanctum sanctorum! He told me he was taking Lassiter’s place for the day and—shit, he said he was waiting for backup. He didn’t look right, so I figured on my way to the Great Camp, I’d stop by here and make sure that whoever Blay got to cover him was going to go there immediately—”

“No!” Layla shouted. “He can’t be alone with—”

“He’s going to kill Xcor,” Wrath snapped. “Goddamn it—”

Zsadist, Phury’s identical twin brother, slid into the doorway in the process of pulling a chest holster on. “What?”

Wrath cursed. “He’s going to fucking kill him. You two, go now! I’ll get Vishous!”

As the Brothers and the King rushed out, Layla hurried into the hall in their wake. Even though there was nothing she could do—nothing she should do—she was enveloped in the nightmare.

Just as they all were.

At the great gate of the cave, Xcor turned his back on Qhuinn’s limping, bleeding approach and yanked at the bars, putting all his instinct for survival into the pull. To naught effect.

   
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